Glazer recruits new backers in bid to seize Manchester United

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The Independent Football

The spectre of a takeover by the American dollar billionaire Malcolm Glazer returned to haunt Manchester United yesterday when the club's second-largest shareholder joined forces with the respected British investment bank NM Rothschild to prepare another bid for the club, which is valued at £668m.

The spectre of a takeover by the American dollar billionaire Malcolm Glazer returned to haunt Manchester United yesterday when the club's second-largest shareholder joined forces with the respected British investment bank NM Rothschild to prepare another bid for the club, which is valued at £668m.

Although Rothschild does not have the financial clout of Glazer's former bankers JP Morgan, who dropped him in November, the firm specialises in advising on takeovers and have the kind of impeccable City reputation that the American needs to help find finance. Glazer's bid to take over United famously stalled on 25 October when the United board took the decision to reject his plans for a takeover, which involved the American borrowing £500m against the value of the debt-free Old Trafford club in order to raise finance.

Although Glazer has struggled to find a backer since November, the move to hire Rothschild- the firm was contacted by the American's representatives at the end of last month - reveals that the threat to United has still not lifted. The American has spent around £250m on 28.14 per cent of the club and appears determined to carry out his plan to assume control of at least 75 per cent of the shareholding.

Crucially, however, it is understood that John Magnier and J P McManus, whose Cubic Expression company owns 28.89 per cent of United, have not been contacted by the Glazer camp over selling their stake. The Irish multimillionaires, whose stake would be central to any takeover, last broke off talks with Glazer on 14 October.

United's position on Glazer has not changed since last month when they said that they would not speak to the American until he came up with a formal bid for the club. The United chief executive, David Gill, has refused him access to the company's accounts and favours reinstating the former commercial director, Andy Anson, who was one of three board members voted out by Glazer at the club's AGM in November.

Rothschild has fought all week to keep its name out of the press in order to prevent the inevitable backlash from militant United fans' groups, which previously targeted JP Morgan. The bank, which is not releasing the names of the directors involved in advising Glazer, was founded in Manchester in 1897 and still has an office on the city's King Street.

There have also been reports that the City PR company Citygate have been approached by Glazer to handle a new bid, though sources insisted last night they were not involved. The American's former PR company Brunswick was the subject of a campaign by United fans who plagued it with phone calls, e-mails and even mass delivery of takeaway pizzas.

The campaign, which was masterminded by militant groups like the Manchester Education Committee, also targeted Bob Leffler, a Florida-based PR adviser who was hired by Glazer after the withdrawal of Brunswick. Leffler, who has worked with Glazer's American football team the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, described United fans as "xenophobic".

Oliver Houston, a spokesman for Shareholders United, which represents fans with small shareholdings, said: "If Malcolm Glazer comes back to our club with an offer, no matter whether the board accepts it or not, the fans will regard his presence as a hostile one.

"It doesn't matter how he has got the money, the only two ways he could get it back are by either increasing ticket prices or selling Old Trafford and using it on a leaseback basis, both of which are completely unacceptable.

"When we fought off BSkyB's advances six years ago, we recognised opinion was divided among the United support about whether their involvement would be good for the club. I can categorically state this time around virtually no one wants Glazer to have anything to do with us."

The details of Glazer's plans to finance his last bid for United confirmed the fears of the clubs' fans when they were leaked in October. They included selling Old Trafford for £175m and leasing it back, selling the naming rights for the stadium and increased ticket prices.

Despite the reports of Glazer's contact with Rothschild, United's share price did not return to anything like its pre-Christmas heights of around 285p. After opening at 252p, it closed at 254p last night, although Cubic is unlikely to settle for any offer which is less than 300p a share.

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